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How Is the Hospitality Industry Coping With the New Normal?

“I think as a country (and the world), very quickly we’ve shown what’s possible when we ‘need’ to deliver” Andrew Howard, Blackpool Grand Theatre

The phrase ‘new normal’ is almost old news now, as businesses around the UK and across the world continue to adapt to the latest guidelines on social distancing and business protocol following the Coronavirus pandemic.

For many, a summer that was previously fully booked with events, weddings and gatherings have been brought to a standstill by the virus. The impact has been felt across a wide variety of businesses and with no real blueprint to work to, businesses large and small have had to react rapidly for the interests of their business’ survival.

The introduction of the furlough scheme has meant many businesses have managed to retain staff members whilst still bringing in some form of income. However, for the events and hospitality sector, the Coronavirus has brought about a period of great challenge, as well as opportunity.

The guys at The Evergreen Agency share their findings after speaking with with three hospitality directors who have revealed their insight and advice into how they plan to adapt and react post pandemic.

In this article, we discuss how the Coronavirus has impacted businesses first-hand, with business owners across the catering and entertainment sector providing both insight and advice regarding how they have had to adapt and how businesses can follow suit.

Utilise the time wisely

With events cancelled and travel limited, businesses that have had their summer bookings postponed are facing a shift in focus compared with their original work routine.

Tom Bronock, Director at The Cocktail Service highlighted how this time has enabled the company to refine its business strategy by utilising avenues they would have otherwise never considered:

“From a company perspective, this time has allowed us to refocus and analyse our business. We all tend to get caught up in the daily whirlwind so it has been really positive for us to take a step back and look at where we can improve.

Beyond our marketing, we have also sought to pivot some services to the digital space through online masterclasses and the launch of our creative studio for drinks brands. We are really excited about TCS Studio as it perfectly fills a gap in the market and allows us to exercise our creativity and experience in the drinks industry for new and established drinks brands”.

Meanwhile, Alex Head, Founder of Social Pantry, said similar, commenting;

“We have had to change the business model to adapt and overcome the challenges our industry is facing. Capacity at all of our sites has been reduced by more than 50% due to social distancing so we needed to make up for this by diversifying how we generate revenue.

We have been facilitating delivery from all sites as well as a grab and go offer. This meant reviewing the menus, production and pricing. We have used the time to reassess our business position and look at where we can improve. It is a good chance to do some ‘housekeeping’ for example, getting the website and SEO in order”.

What can other businesses learn from this?

The Coronavirus, as impactful as it has been, also provides a pivotal opportunity for the industry to review their current services and offerings to emerge stronger and more versatile than before. Something felt with true resonance across the events and hospitality industry is that the industry will bounce back, stronger than ever before. Businesses who have or are using this time to think creatively to offer an exciting or unique service will put them in fantastic stead to lead in the industry when normality begins to return.

Adapt and engage

Andrew Howard, Head of Marketing at Blackpool Grand Theatre, found that as a community, the theatre’s rapid response to lockdown and the immediate closure was illuminating and reassuring.

Commenting on the positives takeaways the pandemic has spotlighted, Andrew commented;

“We were up and running in 24hrs to operate the administration (box office, admin, HR, finance…). We were organised, employees felt secure and they knew what was happening at every stage.

The virus has concreted an understanding that we provide an invaluable service and incredible support for many people we engage within the community. Additionally, It gave a stronger foundation to the departments working together and a more horizontal thinking – how various aspects will affect other people”.

Connect with your audience

Following on from this, Andrew went on to discuss how the theatre have strongly adapted the methods of engagement with the theatre community. In particular, Andrew commented on the diversity in age and technical ability, with the older generation less likely to be able to engage in Zoom or Youtube. This was a welcome challenge for the theatre who have found that this period has opened up a pathway for digital diversification for future engagement.

Arranging everything from phone calls, and check-ins to social events online, Blackpool Grand Theatre have spent a considerable amount of time and effort producing content that connects and inspires their wider audiences, with every project and piece of content created with the ‘bigger picture’ in mind. This follows Arts Council England’s nationwide approach, reminding theatres of the significance they hold in communities and encouraging theatres, wherever possible, to ‘Connect, Comfort and Uplift’ their local audiences.

One significant way Blackpool Grand Theatre have adapted is through the creation of their Youtube channel ‘At Home With You’, which has provided a creative hub for inspiration and activity for all ages. From yoga sessions to theatrical makeup tutorials, the theatre’s Youtube page is a demonstration of a business brought to a complete halt overnight flipping their business strategy with rapid speed, and finding other outlets to engage with their loyal audience.

Diversify Digitally

Another significant trend for businesses adapting successfully is through focussing on their digital efforts, putting energy and resources into building a presence online. Gaining traction online is invaluable to a business and with audiences, followers and customers at home spending more time than ever online, digital diversification has been essential. Customers will welcome interaction and engagement with proactive businesses from the comfort of their home. Some have seen an even bigger increase in user engagement on social media channels than ever before.

Tom Bronock, Director at The Cocktail Service is particularly proud of the results achieved from launching the “Drinkstagram Awards”, a competition that was launched for home bartenders on Instagram in partnership with American whisky brand Makers Mark:

“This was hugely effective for us with hundreds of entries, a reach into the hundreds of thousands and a highly innovative activation which the brand and its UK distribution partner was really pleased with.”

Keep morale high

Another vital element to think about that can ensure the success of your business during these quieter periods is the support of your teams who are at the forefront of bringing these ideas to fruition.

A business is nothing without its team, so ensuring high levels of team morale is essential so that team members feel reassured and tasked with a new set of challenges and tasks that still make them feel like an important part of the team.

Alex Head, Managing Director of the Social Pantry, commented on how the business has kept morale high amongst employees.

“We connect with employees on a regular basis. We have hosted yoga sessions, bake-off, quizzes, wellness sessions and general catch ups in order to keep staff connected”.

Meanwhile, The Cocktail Service have hosted HIIT sessions and weekly meetups online delivered by members of the team:

“We are really lucky to have an amazing team, who have all taken the crisis and furlough in their stride.” Tom commented.

Similarly, the team at Blackpool Grand Theatre have been pooling their efforts into creative initiatives to inspire their audience, both young and old, highlighting how the experience has brought the team together; “We have also felt It’s brought everyone closer together, we’ve learnt so much more about each other and our family lives, pets (two staff have pet shrimps!)”.

Horizontal thinking

As businesses have utilised this time to find out new ways of creative working, it will be difficult for processes to return back to how they were before. Remote working and a shift to being present virtually and online has forced those in the hospitality sector to consider alternative business angles that can work equally as well.

By considering another approach, businesses can better equip themselves for the future. The way in which businesses connect with customers and each other will be vastly different. With various areas of the business being brought together like never before, the way in which events, planning and strategy are approached will be done in a more holistic, measured way. Andrew Howard of Blackpool Grand Theatre refers to this as ‘horizontal thinking’. Alongside The Cocktail Service and Social Pantry, Blackpool Grand Theatre are similarly preparing for the day they can open their doors again. By considering the above points, all businesses will be better equipped for a post COVID world, getting ‘back to business’ armed with a plan to solidify their success for the months and years to come.

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